In The Garden: Growing Yard Long Beans

In The Garden: It is nearly planting time and Pole Beans make a great hot weather crop and a great way to start out in the garden this August. There are several types of beans that grow on poles. The Yard Long Bean, Vigna ungulculata is my favorite so far. Yard Long Beans look like real long string beans, and they taste really good raw or cooked, tending toward sweetness at their best. The variety I am growing right now is called Gita. My friend Vicky says her Yard Long Beans only get to thirty five inches. That’s amazing and I don’t know if she is pulling my leg or serious, but my yard long beans are ready to pick at about 20″ and my longest one was 28″. I never measured Yard Long Beans until Vicky told me about hers!

Long beans should be harvested before the pod part begins to collapse around the swelling seed. Those that stay on the plant that long are best saved as seed for the next season. (See the article: Why We Should Be Saving Seeds.) If it is very dry outside I let them stay on the plant until they begin to lose their green color. If it is raining a lot then I will harvest an old bean and let it dry out on my counter top. Once it is dry, I crack off the pod and save the seeds which in the case of my Yard Long Bean variety Gita, are black. I put them into a paper envelope, mark the name of the seed variety and the date saved, and seal it. I used to make envelopes out of old brown paper, but more recently I have been saving return envelopes from junk mail. I seal the envelope, and cut it in half parallel to the short ends. That gives me two reasonably deep paper envelopes for seeds. Once I have put the seeds in the envelope I fold the top down once and seal it with some tape.

Pole beans need something to grow on, hence the name. It is fine to give them a pole. I think the pole should be at least five feet high. I prefer a fence for them though, or if your garden is a mound consider using long pieces of rebar that arch over the garden from one side to the next. You can plant the beans where the rods go into the ground, or you can plant them beneath the rebar going across the garden. Run a few lines of Sisal or Bailing twine from vertical to vertical parallel with the ground, and tie sisal strings or bailing strings to the rod long enough to reach the ground, knot them at the strings that run parallel with the ground, and bring them down to the ground where the beans will come up. I make a loose loop around the base of the bean plant to make certain the plant notices the string is there. It is so loose a loop that it will slip down over the existing leaves and stems easily so as not to damage the plant. Once the bean plants find the string they fly up it. One more idea for bean support is to sink two 6′ or 8′ 2×2’s vertically on either side of the bed along its length, with another secured horizontally across the top of the two and one more half way down also horizontal and again run sisal strings or bailing strings (if you have a surplus) from the top 2×2 down to the middle, knot them there and let them hang to the ground where the beans will find them, looping loosely around the plants.

I sow my bean seeds directly into the soil about 6-8 inches apart, and no deeper than the longest end of the bean. I pretty much let them fall how they will in the depression I make for them in the soil, and then cover them up loosely and water the soil.

Pole beans are Legumes. They are plants that are able to draw nitrogen gas out of the air and store it in nodes on their roots. They are great soil fixers though other plants will not derive a benefit from their presence until they have died and their roots have rotted into the soil. For that reason once your Legume plants are done you should cut them down to ground level, chop up the leaf and stem parts leaving them on the soil surface for mulch, and leave the roots behind.
You can plant your next crop right there where the old stems are.

Companion Plants for Yard Long Beans are those in the cabbage family, carrot, celery, chard, corn, cucumber, eggplant, pea, potatoes, radish and strawberry. They will benefit from being near nasturtium, rosemary, and summer savory. Pole beans should be kept apart from beet, onion, shallot and garlic plants.

The only insects infestations I get on my Yard Long Pole Beans are aphids and their ant tenders. Soon after the aphids show so do wasps, lady bugs and lizards. While I will see aphids on my bean plants for several weeks after the insect battle has begun I rarely lose more than a couple of beans to the ants and their aphids before the predaceous insects strike the balance.

Yard Long Beans are used the way we use string beans. They can be steamed or stir fried or eaten raw in salads or as crudite. Healthy plants will produce flowers and beans continuously for many months. For the best flavor and a good snap, beans should be picked while their shape is still smooth and before the seed or bean shape shows thru the skin. Even if that means they are not actually a yard long. My best performing Yard Long Bean plants this summer are in a bed mulched with old tree leaves. What I love about these beans is it doesn’t take very many twenty some inch beans to make a side dish for the family. In ten to twelve snips I have harvested a side dish for dinner, and these beans grow up to me so I don’t have to bend to get them, and they are easy to see. I know there is also a burgundy colored variety of Yard Long Bean. I imagine that would be lovely in the garden, and so easy to see at harvest time.

Good luck with your Yard Long Beans.